Thursday, May 7, 2020

When He Called My Friend the N-word

Pam and I have been friends for 13 years.  We’ve taken at least a dozen sermon-writing retreats together until Pam had the nerve to retire and move to the beach (where—by the way—she and her lovely husband have hosted my entire family for 2 vacations).  I miss those sermon retreats.  We laughed, cried, and sought the Lord together.

Pam is a gift-giver.  If she’s your friend, you know this.  She MacGyvers her way into your personal info and regularly surprises you. This is TMI, but this post is vulnerability-city for me so here goes:  One time we were talking undergarments and how the best, supportive, and most lovely brands are so expensive—my favorite brand in particular. Pam took note and for years picked up my favorite brand for me…just because she delights in giving people extravagant gifts.  The extravagance is an expression of her love. 

Years ago on my birthday Pam wanted to treat me for lunch so we agreed to meet halfway.  I selected a small restaurant—it seemed to have local flair—and was excited to see Pam.  We arrived near the same time and walked in together, and I kid you not people stared at us uninterrupted for 30 seconds.  Eventually I waved at the people to break their gaze.  I shrugged it off and we sat down at a booth.  The waitress brought our menus and I excused myself to the bathroom.  As I was returning to our table, a man looked at me and said it:  

The n-word.

He said it loud and clear for all to hear.

I stopped, gritted my teeth, and felt anger course through my body. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that angry.  I stood and stared at him—returning the gaze we'd been given as we entered the restaurant.  And thenI’m ashamed to say—I grew afraid of him.  He was a big man with a posse of people at his table, so I looked away and returned to our booth having said nothing.  I am still ashamed.  

And then the craziest thing happened. 

A woman seated at the man's table came over to our booth.  She sat down with Pam and me.  She said nothing to Pam, but apologized—to me—for the man having said the word.  “He wasn’t talking about you,” she said, as if this somehow absolved him, as if it was okay to use the n-word as long as it didn’t apply to present company.  

Later I told Pam what the man said and her response gutted me.

“That’s normal,” she said. 

I didn’t know this.  I should have, but I didn’t.

I grieved the rest of the day.  I cried, felt shame, and obsessed over what I should or could have done differently. 

That day opened my eyes.  I didn’t want to believe people could be so cruel, but that’s just na├»ve and likely a result of my privilege as a white person. 

I’m sorry. 

Since then I’ve learned more about blatant racism, and also the myriad of micro-aggressions coddled by our culture. I’m still learning.

Why do I tell you this now? I cannot stop thinking about Ahmaud Arbery.

Did you know black families are afraid to let their sons and daughters jog in the street for fear someone might think they’re a burglar AND SHOOT THEM?

This is their normal.

That should break our hearts and lead us to action.  What is your action?  What is mine? I’m praying God will show me the way.  Will you join me in that prayer?

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Trouble With Angels

If you were to rewind to my childhood, you'd find a couple of worn out VHS tapes.  Chief among them was The Trouble with Angels, a funny and insightful movie about calling.  The surprise ending reveals the imperfect protagonist Mary (Hayley Mills) is called to ministry.

Mary is a precocious teenager sent off to Catholic boarding school.  Mary and her friend Rachel are thick as thieves.  They pull pranks, smoke in the bathroom, and wreak hilarious havoc on nuns and students alike.  Not even Mary's cousin Marvel-Ann (awesome name) is spared.

As Mary matures so does her sense of calling, and the patient Reverend Mother helps Mary listen to God.  But even still Mary's calling sneaks up on her.  It's a poignant picture of the sometimes surprising nature of call.  Happily The Trouble with Angels taught young, Protestant Katie that God calls all kinds of people to do God's work: the silly, serious, mischievous, extroverted, introverted, young, old, confident, unassuming, people we expect and others who make our jaws drop.  If you don't believe me there is a book I might suggest.

This book is the Bible.

My scripture reading this morning was the disciples' miraculous catch of fish. Here's the comedy:  They caught 153 fish, the seasoned fishermen took advice from a "stranger," and SURPRISE the "stranger" is Jesus.  A bunch of funny details led to revelation and calling.

"Angel" Katie McKown
In The Trouble with Angels funny details lead to revelation and calling.  Mary's pranks reveal a zest for life (helpful in ministry!), and her growing admiration for the sisters helps midwife a sacred vocation in her own life.

And in my life a movie about a budding, sassy nun in Catholic boarding school helped reveal my call to ministry.  There's a reason I wore out this VHS, and even as a girl I think I knew God was stirring a calling within me.

Thanks be to God for the funny details.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Lament and Hope

Have you been to the grocery store lately?  There are a million memes about toilet paper, but more pressing is the feeling of fear in every aisle.  The anxiety is palpable, and as a person prone to feeling what’s going on around me—it's almost physically painful to observe.

The worry over two-ply or one isn’t the issue.  It’s the fear of someone we love being struck with illness.  It’s the uncertainty of when the curve will flatten.  It’s the anger.  It’s the grief.  It’s the anxiety of inadvertently carrying the illness and giving it to others.  It’s worry about job loss.  It’s all these things and a million more.  The next time you’re at the grocery store look at people’s eyes—so many pairs are glazed over in resignation. 

I know this reads as depressing, but at present it’s simply the reality.  We needn’t paste a smiley-face emoji on everything (I do this) because everything is not happy.  One need only look to a lament psalm to see honesty about our emotions can be a vital part of our prayer.

Read Psalm 42.  It begins beautifully with a deer panting for a stream as we long for the Lord, but as the psalm continues fear-riddled questions are posed: (9-11a) I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”  My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Lament is part of the psalmist’s prayer.  

Friends:  It’s okay to lament AND at the same time it’s also okay to put our hope in God.  Sometimes lament and hope coexist, so we pray all of it to God. 

But don't miss the psalmist's refrain:  Hope. Look at verses 5b and 11b:  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  11b is the bookend of the psalm—a reminder that come what may we are people of hope, God is with us, and we give God praise.

For me this means choosing hope daily.  What does that look like for Katie McKown?

  • Starting my day with ‘Pray as You Go’—a prayer app based on Ignatian Spirituality.  Music, prayer, scripture, and guided questions begin my morning.  This is an app new to me and it’s a good fit for this season.
  • Praying specifically for people by name
  • Taking a walk outside
  • Scheduling FaceTime calls with friends and family.  Sometimes I call to work puzzles (hey I’m #cool) or games, and other times I call because I’m feeling anxious or worried.
  • Updating my Instagram and Facebook pages more regularly to communicate with my neighbors
  • Trying out Facebook Live to share puns
  • Sending thank-you cards or surprising friends with gifts in the mail
  • Refraining from reading news when I feel overwhelmed
  • Taking a nap when I feel tired
  • Writing

I continue to lament over COVID-19, but hope is the beginning and end of my prayer (or that is my goal, rather).  The choices above help me choose hope, and maybe choosing hope looks different for you.  What does choosing hope look like for you? I’d love to hear your suggestions. 

God is with us, brothers and sisters.  This is reason for hope. 

#Puzzletime with my pals Randi (L) and Tony (R)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Women Were Not the Echo Today

I will worship…  (men lead)
I will worship… (women echo)
With all of my heart… (men)
With all of my heart… (women echo)

The soundtrack of my early 20s was contemporary Christian music.  I still enjoy it, and although I also like the liturgical calendar and smells and bells—I’ll never not sing my heart out to "Big House."

Somewhere along the way I noticed women often (always?) echoed the men in praise choruses—this happened at conferences and on the radio.  At first it seemed normal because it was presented as such, but one day it struck me:  Why is this normal?  Why do men always sing the lead?  Why are women always the echo? 


Fast forward to this week. 

Women were not the echo.

Chapel Service at Tyndale Seminary

Our Uptick Voice cohort gathered in Toronto at Tyndale Seminary.  We are a group of women who are leaders in the church and nonprofit world.  As part of our learning experience we worshipped with the seminary community, and as we entered the sanctuary we were met with a diverse team of women leading us.

I was immediately struck by the visual and before I realized it I was choking back tears.  The tears were a response to the beauty of the moment and also the rarity of the moment.  It's rare and it shouldn't be.

I thought about it all week.          

God’s choir is at its most robust when men and women are living in the fullness of God’s calling.  And that means we lead according to our gifts; so sometimes women lead and men echo and other times men lead and women echo. 

This is the witness of scripture.  Paul entrusted Phoebe to deliver (and likely read!) the letter to the Romans.  The church in Rome echoed.  12 men were called to serve alongside Jesus.  Men and women echoed.  Mary Magdalene was tasked with preaching the first sermon of the resurrection.  The (then) 11 echoed. The fullness of all voices leading—alto, tenor, soprano, bass—adds to the richness of the choir.

Leadership changes according to gifts and seasons, but when you’re only allowed to be the echo…it’s hard to imagine you can lead.  This week I heard a scholar say “you can’t imagine what you haven’t seen.”  Do girls see women leading at your church, or are they only allowed to be the echo?  Could there be little Annas and Lydias who don’t know God’s possibilities because you haven’t shown them?  Men, can you consider standing alongside us and insisting on this? 

I am grateful for the men and women who’ve helped me understand God’s call on my life.  That list is long, and I’m eager to encourage the next generation of ministers among us.

Privileged to help lead this Uptick cohort of women leading our churches and nonprofits. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

It's More Than a Yard Sale

This weekend our church is hosting a yard sale.  We're in the thick of it right nowsorting, pricing, and trying on hats (just me).  Yard sales are not for the faint of heart, but it remains one of my favorite events.  The church bands together, we talk and laugh, we share the table, we get rid of stuff we don't need, we meet the community, we give to missions, etc.  I love it.

Last night I snapped this picture.

Houston and Dorothy

A picture is worth 1000 words.  Here are a few of mine:

I love the yard sale best for moments like this one.  A little one and a Baby Boomer are happily chatting, and there are at least five other children out of this frame running all over my yardmostly rolling down the hill in a very tall box.  People in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s are sorting, pricing, and organizing.  It's a big bunch of intergenerational fellowship, which makes a pastor's heart go thump, thump, thump.

More words:  Dorothy's posture toward Houston reminds me of her mother, Katherine, who even in her 90s would speak to children at eye level.  Dorothy told me she's enjoyed getting to know the children while serving in the nursery.  This moment is the result of a Baby Boomer who continues to actively serve our children.  Today Houston's mom said "Katherine is smiling at this picture."  Indeed.

I love the yard sale because it's more than a yard sale.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Imperfect Stars

While doing 100 things at once I hastily sketched stars for tomorrow’s worship.  I made 75 copies before truly noticing the stars' glaring imperfections.   

Practically perfect in every no way

Good gravy, Katie.  These are for the public.  How will the magi arrive in Bethlehem IF THESE ARE THE STARS GUIDING THEM?  

There may be a dramatic crescendo to those questions.  After all:  They're paper stars.  This is small potatoes.  But it didn't feel small.  

Showing imperfections rarely does.  

We've all got imperfections, but letting others see can be painful.  Small potatoes imperfections aren't a big deal, but perhaps they remind us of bigger imperfections--envy, pride, selfishness, greed, or refusal to forgive.  And we don't want people to see those imperfections because what will they think?

So we settle for projecting what we want people to see. 

This helps no one, and can cause us to persist in those bigger imperfections--which is ironic since vulnerability is one of the most freeing paths TO repentance!  Vulnerability is not easy, but showing and telling breaks the power of shame.  

This is good news (!), and in healthy churches vulnerability is heard by others with compassionate ears.  We then walk together through the thick of it, and point each other to God's grace. an attempt to listen to my own sermon (I try this on occasion) I cut out the imperfect stars and stuffed them in tomorrow's worship folders.  May they remind you (and me) to be vulnerable.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Living with the Sermon

For the most part I'm an optimist.  I keep on the sunny side.  I like when frowns turn upside down.  The glass is half full.  

You get my drift. 

Optimists look forward with hope, but we sometimes hesitate to name what is difficult. So I’m stretching today: Sermon-writing is difficult.

Recently a young minister asked me "Do you ever feel inadequate as a pastor?"

"Every day.  Every Sunday.  Every sermon."  I said it so quickly I didn't think to keep on the sunny side.

On Thursdays it feels as if the sermon will never come together.  There’s rambling in my rough draft (if I have one).  My ideas are unclear.  My illustrations seem forced.  It feels like pulling teeth to get a paragraph together.

Of course the sermon comes together—something has to by Sunday—but it’s worrisome each week.  The whole process is humbling, and perhaps especially so for a perfectionist who also struggles with pride.  

Sermons live with me 24/7.  Sometimes people tell me to forget about the sermon for a bit.  People say this because they care about me, but forgetting the sermon is like forgetting I have an arm or a leg.  The sermon is always part of me which makes it heavy to carry; and at the same time the weight is what gives it meaning.  

Sermon-writing is a constant back and forth with the Holy Spirit.  "Is that me talking or you talking?  Am I listening to you or am I just trying to be clever?"  This conversation continues Sunday mornings even as worship begins.  

During worship hundred thoughts come to mind.  I remember afresh the man who's waiting on test results.  I notice the woman staring off in the distance.   I see smiles and grief in the same pew.   I can tell when the teenager would rather be anywhere else.  I sense the closeness of some families and the gaping distance between others.  I scratch out a paragraph.  I underline a sentence to emphasize.  I wonder what good news will sound like for _____ today. 

All of this is part of the sermon-writing process.

Sermon-writing is difficult, but here's what is also true: Sermon-writing is a joy.  Once I reach the pulpit and start preaching the Holy Spirit bolsters me.  It's incredible, and for those 20 minutes I'm in the groove.  

Before the sermon?  Different story.  

After the sermon?  Different story, but during...THAT is the sweet spot. 

As an optimist, I'm tempted to tie all of this up with a big red bow.  No need.  You know I love sermon-writing.  It is a sacred privilege, but it is not easy.  

Most good things aren't.